South Street: ‘Mom’ Cares for its Community

It’s not often families with children who are doing arts and crafts fill the seats of a local bar. But when someone walks into Tattooed Mom on a Sunday at noon, that’s exactly what they can expect to see.

Sarah Cowell, the experience curator at Tattooed Mom, said the weekly themed free arts and crafts events are an effort to bring families in and allow children to interact with the space.

“It just kind of made sense,” Cowell said. “Let’s have everybody hang out and do a bunch of art.”

People of all ages are welcome to participate in Tattooed Mom’s weekly arts and crafts events.

Aside from a neighborhood bar, Tattooed Mom is a self-proclaimed “gathering place for fun.” Almost every day of the week, there’s an art show, thrift pop-up shop, reading, drag show, or some other type of community meet up that draws attention to a social issue or raises money for a cause. Some bar-goers simply stop in for food and drinks — others come to congregate.

On Sundays when participants leave their art behind, it usually ends up on display on the first floor of the bar. Still, those walls don’t have nearly as much artwork as the ones upstairs.

Since Tattooed Mom opened 22 years ago, local graffiti and street artists have been utilizing its walls as a canvas. The space was even dubbed “Philadelphia’s officially unofficial street art museum” by Streets Dept., a well-known website that documents and celebrates street art. The walls of the bar are constantly changing, as older artwork is covered by newer ones. 

The upstairs portion of the bar serves as a gallery of street art and graffiti.

“It’s a good opportunity for a lot of artists to try out their work in a space before it goes out onto the street where it’s going to be weathered,” Cowell said. “We want to help the community of artists.”

And when the bar holds art shows, those benefit more than just the community of artists. Most of the time they serve as fundraisers for organizations like Everytown for Gun Safety, National Alliance on Mental Illness, local theater groups, or youth art programs.

Despite the alluring chaos of the upstairs walls, Tattooed Mom’s diverse lineup of events doesn’t always revolve around street art. There are literature readings, Philly for Change meetings, glass etching workshops, tarot card reader meetups, and drag shows that benefit the LGBTQ community.

Patrick Edwards, a bartender at Tattooed Mom, said in his 12 years of working there, he’s seen the events fill up with both regulars and new faces.

“[Tattooed Mom] reflects the community that it attracts,” Edwards said. “It also reflects South Street … and what South Street is trying to become again.”

Patrick Edwards, longtime Tattooed Mom bartender, makes a cocktail for one of his regulars at the downstairs bar.

Walking past the bar, visitors see a Philly Says No to Hate sign on the window, welcoming marginalized groups. Matt Robinson, a regular at Tattooed Mom, said a huge part of the bar’s atmosphere that people love is this attitude of inclusivity. 

“Everyone’s welcome here, as long as you’re … a nice person,” Robinson said. “It fits a very important niche.”

Megan Rook, a longtime Philadelphia resident, is a hairdresser at Rocker Head Salon and Boutique on 3rd and South streets. She said because of its neighborly quality, she often sends her clients to Tattooed Mom when they’re new to the area and want to make friends.

“They always go there and they meet people,” Rook said. “You can express yourself.”

Cowell said she’s glad people feel accepted at Tattooed Mom, but the bar will constantly have to evolve with South Street to pursue inclusivity and continue serving as a meeting place for everyone.

“It’s one thing to say, ‘We say no to hate,’” Cowell said. “Inclusivity is something you can always be working toward … We can always do better. Everyone can always do better.”

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